Contrary to the claims of many books and web sites, there's no such thing as a proven hepatitis C diet or exercise regimen. But while you have to be wary of any programs promising cures, you should eat right and get exercise.
"There's no hard data about exercise or eating right with hepatitis C, but I always tell people to do it," says David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Exercise can make them feel better, especially with depression caused by treatment."
As far as viruses go, hepatitis C is among the sneakiest. Once it's in your blood, it travels to your liver, where it may settle in for a silent, long-term stay. This can lead to liver cancer or liver failure you don't treat it. In fact, hepatitis C is the top reason for liver transplants in the U.S.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, here are five reasons to get tested promptly:
What should you be eating if you have hepatitis C? The same diet everyone should eat for good health. "Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and cut back on fats and sugars," says Alan Franciscus, executive director of the Hepatitis C Support Project in San Francisco. If you want to try a more unorthodox diet, check it out with your doctor first. Some people with hepatitis C find that the disease makes them less hungry. If this happens to you, try eating smaller meals more frequently.
Exercise With Hepatitis C
If you have hepatitis C, exercise can make you feel stronger, and it can also help alleviate depression caused by treatment with pegylated interferon, says Franciscus. Of course, Franciscus admits that if you're coping with hepatitis C, hopping on a treadmill may be the last thing you feel like doing.
"One of the main symptoms of hepatitis C is fatigue," Franciscus says. "So people just feel wiped out and the idea that exercise will help doesn't seem to make sense. But it really does make a difference for a lot of people with the disease."
Thomas agrees. "I think exercise is terrific for people with hepatitis C," he tells WebMD.
Alcohol and Hepatitis C
Alcohol can damage the liver on its own, and it's especially dangerous for people with hepatitis C. However, doctors debate about whether you need to stop drinking or just cut down.
"Some doctors say that you should cut out all alcohol," says Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. "I personally feel that just limiting it is OK in some cases. If you want to have a glass of wine with a nice dinner, or a beer at a ballgame, I think that's all right." However, he stresses that no one with hepatitis C should be drinking regularly.
Ask your doctor whether you should drink alcohol and, if so, how much is safe.
Paul Berk, MD, professor of medicine and emeritus chief of the division of liver disease, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; former chairman of the board, American Liver Foundation.
Alan Franciscus, executive director, Hepatitis C Support Project and editor-in-chief of HCV Advocate, San Francisco.
Thelma King Thiel, chair and CEO, Hepatitis Foundation International.
David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.
Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine and anatomy and cell biology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York City.
The American Gastroenterological Association.
The Hepatitis Foundation International.
The HCV Advocate.
The National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases.
WebMD Medical Reference: "Health Guide A-Z: Hepatitis C," "Newly Diagnosed: Hepatitis C."